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Rob Magin: The Profound Impact of the Quiet
The profound impact of the quiet . . .
The statement itself seems misleading, as most associate profound impact with bold statements or events. However, when one wants to describe the life of Rob Magin, there is hardly a better statement to help others understand who he was throughout life. The words of his family, friends and associates paint the portrait of a quiet but endlessly active man who left a lasting mark on everyone he met, if it was even only the briefest of encounters. Rob was a testament to the old adage that a man’s character can be judged by examining the effect on the lives of those he meets. To embark on the journey that revisits the life of Rob Magin, is to meet a multitude of people that remembers a man who was a great teammate, a hardworking student-athlete, a humble competitor, an endearing friend, and a loving family man. It is in the memory of this man and in honor of the lives that he touched that the annual UMBC Homecoming Race will be renamed The Rob Magin 5k Dawg Chase.
Westminster High School
Rob’s running career began on the Westminster High School cross country and track and field teams. A perennial teammate of Joe Kershner, Kershner remembers Rob as, “one of the smartest kids in our class. He was such a good student that I remember once, mercilessly, giving him a hard time when he received a B on an assignment in an elective Horticulture class. I don’t think I had ever seen Rob receive a B, and I took the opportunity to express my mock concern that he was headed straight for the gutter.”
The characteristics that would tread a common path through Rob’s life were already beginning to emerge. Kershner explains, “In that complexly stratified social environment of high school, he was pretty comfortable being the smart kid. He was definitely on the quiet side, but not because he was socially awkward. I think it was more likely that he was just more sensible and self-possessed than most of the kids in school. At a time in life when people do some crazy or stupid things to get attention, Rob was just a solid, smart, hard-working, level guy. That’s not to say he was boring. We had a lot of fun in track and cross country practice, at meets and races, and hanging out afterward.”
It was on the track or in the fields of cross-country that his actions revealed, with an exclamation point, the drive that was found within him. “Rob was a relentless runner, both training and in meets,” continued Kershner, “I remember that in our junior year in track, Rob decided he should run every distance event available. At the time, you were only allowed to enter four events for any one meet, and so in our first meet of our junior year, he signed himself up for the 800, the 1600, the 3200 and the 3200 relay. That set the standard. I reluctantly followed his example, and soon all the distance guys were multi-event contributors. The coaches never had to ask us to work harder or to take on more, because Rob had already defined for us what a full effort was.”
University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Rob continued his running career in the fall of 1988 at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), majoring in computer science. Like many times before and in the times to follow, he began to win over everyone. “Man, I loved that kid, and he was truly an example of one of the best of the best,” declared former Head Coach Jim Pfrogner. “He would do whatever was asked of him. Even if he’d just doubled in the 10k and 5k he’d run a leg on the 4x8 if no one else was available.” Teammate Paul Loebach said that, despite a quiet and unassuming nature, he was so “mentally and physically strong for a man in such a tiny package.”
While many recall Rob’s 10k exploits in which he won a conference title (Rob still holds the third-fastest time in school history), it is the other memories that paint a clearer picture of who he was. Among the best stories are those that recount the tales of hill repeats on Gunn Road. The massive hill, or cliff depending on the person describing it, was nearly a mile in length. For a workout, runners were strategically lined up by Coach Pfrogner and given the explicit instructions to catch the person in front of them but to avoid being caught by those behind. Runners would race up the hill, running for their pride, and repeat the process anywhere from three to five times. It should come as no surprise to all that even after twenty years, Coach Pfrogner still recalls that Rob “set the record of the fastest time ever on that beast.”
The accounts of their initial meeting or the arrangement of their courtship vary from narrator to narrator, but the essential facts remain true: teammates of Rob at UMBC knew a girl named Jenn Kuta who, like Rob, had a quiet demeanor and a penchant for running. She competed at Rockville High School with Retrievers Paul Loebach and Steve Smith, and then continued at Mount St. Mary’s University. In many cases, Jenn unknowingly ran at the same meets as Rob. Mutual friends decided that they would be perfectly matched, so Jenn and Rob were secretly and strategically pushed together at social events, with the hope their common personalities would lead to something more. As fate would have it, or as friends had designed it, Rob would end up marrying Jenn in 1996, with Coach Pfrogner behind the turntables as the DJ at their wedding.
During this time, Rob ran with the Montgomery County Road Runners while working for Marriott International as an accountant and systems analyst. “He trained himself, running every day, but two times a year he would take three to four weeks off,” remembers Jenn. In 1994, Rob won the Runner of the Year for the club, and many would point out that he would have won many more had competitors not been limited to winning it only once.
There was no doubt that Rob was extremely successful in his running pursuits; however, those who did not live within his running circle may have never known due to his humble nature. Rob’s brother-in-law, Mike Kuta recalled his conversations with his father when he noted, "You may have heard that Rob was modest about his running accomplishments. In fact, if you knew Rob in other areas, you may have been surprised to learn that he had any running accomplishments at all. For us it became a bit of a game to try to get the results out of him. His first line of defense was simply to not mention that he had run a race. If we knew he had recently been in a race, we would ask him how he had done. He might confess that his time wasn't quite as good as last year's, or made some other evasive observation. If we pressed him about how he had placed, he would allow as how it was ‘not too bad’ or ‘pretty good.’ After some more back and forth like that, we would eventually have to directly ask him whether he had come in first, at which point he would finally acknowledge that yes, he had."
“I trusted him, more than I trusted myself,” recalls Jenn, “he was kind of like a Superman” for the family. She revealed that while quiet, he always left people gushing, including “my brothers who worshipped him.” She describes him as an “energizer bunny,” who couldn’t rest while a task was at hand. Eventually, Jenn and Robb had three beautiful children, all of whom carry on the beloved tradition of running set by their parents. Currently, all three children participate with the Olney Cross Country team. Mary Beth, the eldest at age 12, is primarily a swimmer, but dabbles in running. Paul, age 10, has already run two 5k’s and the youngest of the family, 4-year-old Christine, has already completed multiple 1,000 meter cross-country races, in addition to running countless miles around the house and yard. Even the demands of being the father of three could not deter Rob from training, as Jenn has memories of him, “getting up at 5 AM so he would have time for the kids when he got home from work.”
Together, they would be active volunteers in the Montgomery County Road Runners Club, focusing mainly on youth races for the club. Rob would also volunteer his time as a Sunday School teacher at the Gaithersburg Presbyterian Church.
In the spring of 2008, Rob went to the doctor because of a series of headaches that were accompanied by bouts of nausea. It was discovered that he had a malignant glioma, a type of brain cancer. Doctors immediately removed as much of the tumor as was safely possible through surgery, and in June of that year he went through a series of chemotherapy treatments. While many people might wallow in their misfortune and withdraw from life, Rob continued the only way he knew how:
“The next two months during the radiation and chemo I may take time off to spend with the kids, or I may try to work if I can. Marriott’s been great. They’ve been very flexible. The radiation can be very tiring. The surgery tired me out a bit. But I got out once last week for a run and I try to walk every day.” (Washington Times, 2008)
Battling cancer made Rob utter perhaps the second complaint of his life; the first complaint was in reference to “the dreaded bologna sandwich” Coach Pfrogner bought the UMBC runners on meet days, which Rob once ate before a race and led to predictably disastrous results. His only other complaint in life was that the side effects of the treatments kept him from helping care for baby Christine as much as he wanted, though he still responded to her cry as much as one possibly could. Rob kept in good spirits all the way, impressing people with his upbeat attitude and stamina to try every possible treatment. In his fight with cancer, he stayed true to character and became a fierce competitor. While a malignant glioma usually takes less than a year to work its course, Rob turned his fight into a race of endurance, battling his illness for two years, before passing away at age thirty-nine.
The Legacy of Rob Magin
Rob was small-framed, even in the cross-country world of the rail thin, but his amazing penchant for grueling endeavors allowed him to excel in distance events and eventually extended his life so others could enjoy more time with him. The declaration that “good things come in small packages” is an understatement when related to Rob Magin. Here was a man, who did not say much, because in the end, he did not have to. Every person who came in contact with him, no matter the chapter of his life in which they met, was left with the same impression of a genuinely good and pure person. And thus, without having to say much, he so profoundly impacted others in such a way that they will do all the speaking for him, and will reach more people than he could ever do by himself.
Please come out and join us as we honor Rob Magin for the first time as part of the Rob Magin 5k Dawg Chase held on the campus of UMBC on Saturday, October 13th.